The Civil Court in Bangkok read the verdict in which the family members of Chaiyaphum Pasae, an 17 year old indigenous human rights defender in Chiang Mai, filed a lawsuit to claim damages from the army. The case derives from the incident in which the two military officers committed extrajudicial killings against Chaiyaphum on 17th March 2017 in Chiang Dao District, Chiang Mai Province. The military officers claimed that they found drugs in Chaiyaphum’s car and had to shoot Chaiyaphum with a M16 in his arm as they claimed Chaiyaphum resisted the search and attempted to throw a grenade at the military officers.
The inquest hearing on June 2018, states the circumstances of Chaiyaphum’s death that the military officers used an M16 assault rifle to shoot bullets through Chaiyaphum’s left arm, entering the left side of his body and hitting the aorta, heart and lungs, causing his death.
The court ruled that the military shot Chaiyaphum in self-defense and was necessary. Therefore, the court claimed that the Royal Thai Army is not liable to pay damages to Chaiyaphum’s family as filed with the Officers’ Violation Liability Act 1996.
Travelling from Chiang Mai, Napoi Pasae, Chaiyaphum’s mother attended the hearing with Maitree Chamroensuksakul, Chair of Rak Lahu Group and the legally authorised people assigned to represent Chaiyaphum, Nawa Ja-ue, and Yupin Saja, Chaiyaphum’s caretakers /WHRDs, as well as their lawyers Ratsada Manuratsada and Preeda Nakpew.
Ratsada, the attorney of Chaiyaphum’s family, said that the family members and lawyers disagree with the verdict citing several irregularities as follows:
The court specifically gives extra weight to the testimony of Phongsanai Saengtala who was driving Chaiyaphum’s car on the day of the incident. Phongsanai did not testify in court but gave a testimony during the police investigation. However, the lawyer noted that Phongsanai’s testimony cited in the verdict was collected about two weeks after the event, whereas it should be collected immediately after the incident. Moreover, the lawyer also noted that Phongsanai was not charged for possession of drugs even though he was in the same vehicle where the drugs were allegedly found.
“If people are seated together in the same car and that car had a large number of drugs, generally, he would be charged with having the drugs in his possession. But in this case, it was not like that. We have to look why one person was killed, but the other who was present and sat in the same car was not charged or prosecuted,” said Ratsada
The lawyer also noted that the CCTV recording of the incident still remains missing even though it is key evidence and able to reveal exactly what happened. Despite this the court gave weight to the Police’s Office of Forensic Science which examined the CCTV recording received from the military officer stationed at Ban Rin Luang checkpoint. The Office of Forensic Science stated in the examination report that there was no suspicion or attempts by the defendant to modify, change or destroy any information contained in the CCTV recording. The results of verification and expert opinion indicate that the recordings, CCTV cameras and hard disks installed still functioned as normal. As for the recording of the actual incident on 17th March 2017 at 10:00 am, there was no deletion or addition of movie files in the recorder, the verdict cites the Office’s report. But the court did not ask where is CCTV footage.
The court also did not take in to account another separate drug related case for consideration. After Chaiyaphum was killed on 17th March 2017, Nawa Ja-ue, a women human rights defender and his caretaker who called for justice for Chaiyaphum was arrested on drug charges. She insisted her innocence throughout whilst remaining imprisoned in Chiang Mai Women’s Correctional Institution for almost 1 year. However, she was later released due to insufficient evidence.
Ratsada also noted that the inspection of the crime scene in the event of an extrajudicial killings does not comply with the legal process. According to the Criminal Procedure Code, Section 150, paragraph 2, 3, 4, in the event of an extrajudicial killing, there must be relevant parties such as doctors, police, community leaders, parents, family, relatives, to attend to the scene immediately for transparency. But in this case, soldiers initially blocked the scene and prevented anyone from entering.
“We were quite shocked by the verdict. We expected the truth to emerge. But the truth that emerged was not the truth of either party. Of course, I cannot go against the verdict, but there should be more answers and truth for us,” said Maitree.
“The main evidence that we want to see is the CCTV recording because the camera cannot lie. We would like to see clear evidence of what happened that day to Chaiyaphum.”
“If you ask me if we feel discouraged, of course it is very discouraging. Why is it that the pursuit of justice for people like us is so tiring and difficult? But if we let it go like this, the authorities could use a gun to shoot anyone they want. We must keep fighting. We will continue to fight,” said Maitree
Napoi Pasae, mother of Chaiyaphum, said that after hearing that the court had dismissed the case, she felt a lot of pain and loss. In the end, they were repeatedly defeated by the judicial process. But she is ready to fight and will not give up, if there is a way, she is ready to fight.
Pranom Somwong, Protection International Thailand Representative who also attended the hearing, said that the judgment shows that injustice and inequality in the judicial process still persists. Therefore, we cannot stop fighting to reclaim justice. We must remember that hope is a vital and powerful necessity in situations in which we are not left with any justice. Chaiyaphum’s family still has hope in this defense.
“In Thailand, people are now yearning for change and hope that the change will lead the country in a better direction. Therefore, let us all support and, together with the family of Chaiyaphum, proceed with the case and help each other to ensure that they will all receive justice,” said Pranom.
Photo credit: by Luke duggleby